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Observations placeholder

Malta - 09 Xagħra Stone Circle



Type of Spiritual Experience


Three worlds - doing the dive

From what we can judge this complex was used to provoke rebirth experiences, which are inherently dangerous. 

They can cause madness, and if the site itself is dangerous, for example with drops or ledges, people can easily kill themselves by falling off.  But the very high number of dead indicate a change of use from sacred site to burial chamber.

The traditional time needed to provoke rebirth experiences was 3 days. 

Given the inherent danger, this ceremony was likely to have been infrequent and would have needed extensive helpers.  The observation indicates that there may be solar alignments which both marked the time when initiates ‘did the dive’ and surfaced again – reborn.

A description of the experience

Philip Coppens. "From the otherworld to another world?"

The Xaghra Stone Circle is close to the Ggantija temple, dated to 3600-3000 BC.  The Xaghra Stone Circle is on a hill overlooking the Ggantija complex, to the west, and is sometimes known as the Brochtorff Circle.

 In the 1820s, John Otto Bayer, the Commissioner for Gozo, excavated the complex, revealing a temple-like structure on the floor of a cavity in the rock. However, the excavation was refilled, with two watercolour paintings by Charles Brochdorff becoming the only record of his work. Nearly all the stones of the circle were then broken up and removed for building, and even the site’s location was lost, only to be rediscovered in 1964. Finally, between 1987 and 1994, it was re-excavated, confirming Bayer’s findings, or at least what could still be confirmed after the destruction of the 19th century, as well as adding a wealth of new information, so much so that it took another decade before all the work was published.

It is known that this hypogeum had, as late as 1828, two monumental pillars more than four metres high, forming the entrance on the east side, as well as a “Giant’s Tower”, still standing. The circle itself is said to be contemporary with the “Zebug phase”, i.e. 4100-3800 BC. The circle is not typical of other stone circles in Northern Europe, for this one has interlocking standing stones forming a boundary wall built to protect a large underground chamber cut out of a series of natural caves – i.e. why it is on par with the Hypogeum.

As in the Hypogeum, a stone shaft leads down, this time into two circular chambers, which contained more than sixty individuals buried with some of their personal ornaments. Bone amulets that looked like humans, and axe-shaped stone pendants that had been imported from overseas, some from as far away as the Alps, show that in 4000 BC, this small island community had wide-ranging contacts. So both in Gozo and at the Hypogeum, the entrance was “nothing more than a large hollow that had been quarried into the upper rock layers.”

As in the Hypogeum, red ochre was splashed on the walls of one chamber. As in the Hypogeum, thousands of bone fragments were found, belonging to more than 1000 individuals (some putting the figure as high as 3000). The remains show that they were part of an unusually healthy population with good teeth. However, again, very few – in this case two – articulated skeletons complete with their skulls have been discovered.

Like the Hypogeum, it is assumed that burial rituals occurred in a central area a few steps below the ground.

 A small statue group of two obese draped figures (one holding a smaller version of herself and the other a hollow cup) was found here, as well as pieces of a broken statue of a similar woman, which was originally one metre high. A dozen terracotta figurines with enormous buttocks and thighs and small torsos and limbs have also been unearthed. Thus, like the Sleeping Lady of the Hypogeum, art was also deposited in the Gozo hypogeum.


Interestingly, some figurines have human heads, supported on triangular bodies, but one is attached to a two-limbed animal body, while another has a pig’s head. Do these suggest certain shamanic practices – temple sleep obviously being a divinatory method too?

The temple complexes of Malta and Gozo are known to incorporate solar alignments, … Hard evidence is difficult to come by, as how the surface level parts of the structure looked like, is now unknown and impossible to find out. It is known that the internal lobby of the middle level gave access to other areas of that level, but also received the first incoming light from the external parts and the upper level. A series of upright megaliths may have been placed to play with the sunlight that could apparently only indirectly enter the structure.
Observers have noted that the Hypogeum is situated on the crest of a hill to the western side of the Tarxien temple, and that this position is similar to that of the Xaghra Stone Circle in Gozo.

Of course, the west is the position of the setting sun, and is hence “naturally” associated with death. One can therefore argue whether certain alignments to the setting sun were once part of this structure.

The source of the experience


Concepts, symbols and science items

Activities and commonsteps



Sensory deprivation